Friday, April 13, 2012

TOP STORY >> City no longer owns hospital

Leader staff writer

“Done, done, done!” Mayor Gary Fletcher jubilantly declared after signing over the city hospital to a Louisiana-based health management firm.

Allegiance Health Management Group, which has managed the North Metro Medical Center for the past three years, signed the paperwork Friday afternoon to officially take over as the owners of the hospital.

“This was three years in the making,” the mayor explained, “and ensures that the city and the air base will have access to high-quality healthcare for years to come.”

Allegiance worked out a $10 million loan with First Arkansas Bank and Trust to buy the hospital and to back the loan the city put up the medical clinic near the hospital as added collateral. The city still owns the medical clinic.

The approximate $10 million price tag would cover the bond the city has on the hospital and other related debts and lines of credit.

Attorney Mike Wilson, chairman of the hospital board, said the sale only includes the hospital building. The city retains ownership of the nearby medical clinic, medical offices at Crestview Plaza and a clinic in Cabot. The city will also have what Wilson called right of first refusal for the next five years in case Allegiance decides to sell the hospital.

But Jay Quebedeaux, the hospital’s chief executive officer, said that was doubtful. “The hospital is celebrating its 50th year here, and we expect to be around with it for the next 50,” Quebedeaux said.

The mayor added that whenthe hospital celebrates its 50th anniversary in a couple of weeks, it will be a look back, but this sale is a new beginning, a solid future for the city. The hospital is a great facility with great equipment and great doctors.”

Quebedeaux said, “We are very excited and proud to be here, writing a new chapter in the North Metro book. The sale aligns us with a hospital chain whose mission is to provide maximum assistance to rural and community health-care facilities.”

“Thank you for your hard work,” Quebedeaux told everyone at the signing.

North Metro has seen renewed services and the addition of more specialized units since Allegiance took over managing the hospital in 2009. Services have increased in areas such as surgery, physical therapy, the wound center, physical rehab, home health, lab and medical imaging. The hospital’s in-patient geriatric psychiatry unit has expanded to 31 beds. Waiting rooms and a wing on the first floor have been renovated.

In August 2011, Allegiance moved its long-term acute care hospital from Little Rock to North Metro.

The Jacksonville City Council actually approved the sale in November 2010 and city leaders thought everything would have been ready almost a year ago. But it has taken longer than expected to secure the financing and get the paperwork in order.

According to the mayor’s 2012 state of the city report, the hospital employs about 400 people and has a $17 million economic impact on Jacksonville and the surrounding area.